Tuesday, May 16, 2017

An Extended Stay

Justin got invited back to his internship in Colorado Springs again this summer.  We were pretty excited about it, because we thought that for sure we'd get enough notice to find a nicer apartment than where we lived last year.  We were wrong.  His internship is getting cut short this summer for some additional Army training, so he requested to have the dates of his internship adjusted, allowing him to start earlier.  It took forever to get them approved, and by the time they were actually finalized we were looking at the same kind of timeline we dealt with last summer.  I will make a long story very short, and just say that after a lot of searching we are spending the next sixty days in an extended stay hotel.  It's an interesting little adventure to say the least.  More on that later though.

We left our apartment in Utah Friday afternoon after taking way too much time searching high and low for Justin's phone, which we never found.  We decided to take it easy getting to Colorado Springs, and do some exploring on the way.  Our first day of driving was the longest, and we decided to head towards Vernal, and camp in Dinosaur National Monument.  There is a really beautiful campground there right next to the Green River.  We stopped along the way to get a picture of Devil's Slide.  I've seen pictures of it before, but I wanted to get a good look at it in person.
It looks man-made to me, but allegedly it's not
We should have stopped to take a picture of the wild horses that we saw out by Flaming Gorge, but that thought only came to me after I'd driven past them, so no pictures.  Sorry, but they were beautiful, and there was something a little bit captivating about their wildness.  We finally got to the campground that evening, and selected a site that was mercifully away from the river.  I love the river, but I love my kids more.  The night before we left Vivian and I had a little talk about staying away from it without Justin or I, and she seemed to get it, but what if she didn't?  I don't want to be on the news sobbing about my missing toddler that got swept downstream in the spring runoff.  
The view from our campsite
Justin took Vivian down to the river as soon as we got there.  Get the curiosity out of her system kind of approach.   

It's really pretty down there, and some day when the kids are older and it isn't spring runoff I want to float it.
While they were off doing that I had told Justin that I wanted to set up the tent alone, to see if I can so that I can take the kids camping while he's away at training.  I'm pretty sure that two old guys lounging around in a nearby campsite got a good laugh watching me battle it out with the rainfly, but I eventually won out.  So camping without Dad is an option this summer!
She was repeatedly asked to stop laying in the stickers.  She was covered in them.
We had dinner and called it an early night, going down with the sun.  We no longer all fit on the queen air mattress.  I can sleep on the ground, but I've done that enough with the Army, so when I camp on my own I prefer to do it comfy style with an air mattress.  Justin offered to take the ground, and weirdly Vivian insisted on joining him.  We really didn't expect her to last down there very long, but she spent the night on the ground cuddled up to her dad.  You won't ever find a bigger daddy's girl.  It's very cute.  The next morning Justin woke up in time for sunrise and snuck out of the tent early for some pictures.  

The rest of us still woke up pretty early and we had camp packed up and were at the visitor's center by 0900.  We initially wanted to do a little bit of hiking.  We drove both cars here, so I left Justin in the parking lot with both kids in his car and ran inside for a map.  While I was in line waiting for a ranger to assist me a man came through the front doors, walked up to me and asked if I was the owner of the CRV out there.  I answered that I am, and he told me that it's unlocked and that he knew that it was unlocked because he was parked next to me, forgot something in his car, turned around and opened mine on accident.  I told him that my husband is sitting in the car right next to it, and his response was "well he didn't say anything to me when I opened it."  Justin reported that he did watch the whole thing happen, and his only remark was "yeah, it was weird."  Glad he wasn't a thief I guess. 

 As it turned out the wind was kind of a problem that morning.  It was so strong that just walking through the parking lot I could hear Ivan struggling to catch his breath, so hiking was ruled out.  We settled for riding the little tram up to see the bones.  Vivian loved it.  She loved riding the "bus."  She loved touching the dinosaur bones, and well...she played with the rocks in the exhibit.  I'm pretty sure that's not something you're supposed to do in the exhibit, but she did.  She wasn't hurting anything, so the only person that said anything was her dad when he spotted her creating a mound of little rocks on the walkway.
Ivan struggling to get in his morning nap in the ergo.
The area where you're invited to touch a real dinosaur bones.  Those rocks she is standing on are the ones that got piled onto the walkway.
After that we returned to the visitor's center where I was again subjected to an odd conversation with the guy who got into my car.  He approached to tell me that the first clue he had that he was in the wrong car is that my camelback is green, and his is blue.  I would think that his first clue would have been the fact that my car was packed to the brim with stuff for the move, not that the camelback was the wrong color.  Either way, I didn't really know what to say to him about it, so the conversation went nowhere.  

We left the visitor's center and drove into the Colorado side of the monument.  There are some really nice overlooks into a pretty spectacular canyon on that side.  We've attempted to see it before, but we were turned around by the craziest lightening storm that either of us have ever seen.  I was frankly nervous about repeating the experience this time, but aside from the ridiculous wind, the weather was fine.  

Vivian and I at the second overlook.
That took up a huge chunk of our day.  We ate lunch and then set off for Eagle, Colorado where we had a hotel booked for the night.  On the way there we took a very little detour to Rifle Falls State Park.  It was beautiful.  You can tell that the area around the falls has been groomed and cleaned up a lot, but I think it's well done, and we enjoyed the break from the car. 
We drove by this reservoir on the way out to the falls.  The water color was really amazing.

There's a hike up to behind the falls

Ivan found the water to be captivating

There was also a hiking trail to the top of the falls where Justin practiced with different camera settings.
We stopped for dinner, and rolled into Eagle, Colorado just after sunset.  It was supposed to be a 3.5 hour drive from Dinosaur National Monument to Eagle.  It took us all day.  At that point we'd been in the car long enough to have driven to Colorado Springs and halfway back again.  We knew that we were pushing our luck with the kids.  We agreed that night that the next morning would be a straight shot to our extended stay hotel.  

So that's what we did.  We took our time getting out the next morning.  Maybe that wasn't a great idea.  We got stuck in traffic between Denver and the springs.  All the same, we arrived late in the afternoon, and pulled into our home for the next 60 days.  
Home Sweet Home
The dirt parking lot (not sure that's really visible in the picture), and the sign from the fifties had Justin and I feeling a little uncertain about things.  We kept kind of repeating back and forth to each other that it had great reviews online while we sat outside waiting for someone in the office to show up (they're closed on Sunday, so we had to call and wait for someone).  The office did nothing to reassure me.  When someone did arrive we were greeted into a dimly lit office that appeared to have a makeshift partition put up to block a view into a private residence.  The guy behind the counter was bundled in a winter coat (it was probably 75 degrees outside), and the maintenance man could play a convict on TV with no problem.  However, the "suite" is small, but super clean, and the maintenance man was extremely nice.  One amusing feature is that our suite is equipped with only one knife:  
I feel like a grill should be included if this is the knife that's being supplied
My suspicion is that they bought one knife set and each suite gets one knife from the set.  Lucky us, we got the meat cleaver!  Thank goodness for the kitchen section of the Dollar Tree!  Justin is outraged that their cable package does not include ESPN, but on the whole we're liking our extended stay.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Finals Week!

This week was finals week at USU.  However, thanks to Justin's choice in majors he had a bunch of papers to write, and only two actual finals.  One final was Monday afternoon, and the last one was Friday morning.  Justin repeatedly reassured me that the Friday final would be no big deal, and once he was done on Monday we could, and really should take the opportunity to go to Yellowstone and try and spot some baby animals.  Ordinarily I would never agree to go further north this time of year and vacation in a place that still hasn't completely emerged from winter, but I have a weakness for baby wildlife, and so does Justin.

We arrived late Monday night in Gardiner, Montana during a little snowstorm and were optimistically planning for better weather the next day.  We had already agreed that Tuesday morning there would be no alarm clocks, other than the two built in ones that we call "Vivian" and "Ivan."  Thankfully they tend to be late alarms.

After an uneventful morning we left the hotel around 9am Tuesday morning and headed out to Lamar Valley.  All of our research had directed us there for the best animal viewing.  We've been there before with no luck, but this time our reading told us the earlier the better and to look for the wolf watchers.  So we weren't especially early, and we really didn't know how to spot wolf watchers, but we were eager to learn.  Our first stop turned was to watch a couple of baby buffaloes.  We were thrilled to already be seeing baby animals.

We realized pretty quickly after this that you would almost have to try to NOT see baby buffalo in the park right now.
Our next stop was to check out a park ranger with a spotting scope.  It turned out that she was looking at some big horn sheep.  However, while Justin was out there trying to ascertain what there was to see some guy drove up and reported that a grizzly bear had killed an elk "just a little further up the road."  So we continued down the road to a spot that was crowded with people, unloaded the kids and found ourselves viewing a mother black bear with her two tiny cubs.

This clearly was not the grizzly bear feasting on a freshly killed elk, so we only watched for a few minutes, snapped a bunch of pictures and continued down the road.  That man who first told us about the grizzly bear was sort of prone to exaggeration.  It was miles further down the road before we saw the bloody elk remains laying by the river.  A few people were still there chatting about the thrill of the sighting that we had allegedly just missed.  We were quite disappointed.  We spent a little while waiting to see if the bear would return for the rest of the carcass, but we weren't particularly patient and after a while we continued down the road again.

After a short drive we came across a group of people with spotting scopes out staring at a hillside that appeared to be pretty empty, but for a few buffalo.  Justin got out of the car and inquired with the owners of the scopes.  We had stumbled on the wolf watchers, and we discovered immediately that these are generally an extremely nice group of people.  There's always at least one that will let you take a peak through their scope.  That's how we were able to see the wolf on the mountainside that was nothing more than a speck to the naked eye.  Here's the only photo we could manage:
That little black dot is a wolf stalking the baby buffalo on the left with it's mother
It was pretty exciting.  The wolf spotters are very devoted to their hobby.  There was a little flurry of excitement over this wolf because nobody there seemed to recognize him.  That's right, they know all of the wolves by name.  His markings were apparently unfamiliar to the group.  We chatted with them for a bit, but we really didn't have anything to add to the conversation.  So after thanking them for sharing their find we returned to the car.  We decided to drive back to the hotel for naps, and then we would comply with an earlier request from Vivian to visit Old Faithful.  She fell asleep a few minutes after we left the wolf watchers, so we decided to let her just nap in the car on the way to Old Faithful.

The drive to Old Faithful took a full two hours due to road construction.  There are major issues with that road following the winter storms.

I will probably never understand Justin's aversion to wearing a coat
Old Faithful was...well just as I remembered it from the last time we visited.  Vivian enjoyed it, and we stopped by Grand Prismatic Springs on the way back to the hotel for the evening.  We almost lost Vivian to an Asian couple at Grand Prismatic Springs.  They literally didn't speak a word of English, but motioned to us that they would like to take a picture of Vivian.  They were elderly, and seemed pretty harmless so we didn't stop them.  Then the woman picked up Vivian for the picture (amusing because Vivian was probably half her size), and we may have looked a little concerned, because when the wife then put Vivian down, but grabbed onto her arm speaking in a foreign language, like she was motioning her to come with her the husband stepped in and stopped her.  I think he realized that we weren't going to be okay with that.  Kind of funny though.

On the drive back to the hotel we got stopped by a buffalo in the road.  It happens all the time in Yellowstone.  It wasn't our first time encountering that, not even our first time that day.  This particular buffalo had apparently had it with tourists though.  As we went to creep by him, he sort of lunged at our car.  I hit the brakes just in time and he missed us, but we waited until he decided to leave the middle of the road before we made another attempt at passing him, and it was a good 5 minutes before Justin and I had normal heart rates again after that.

Once we got back to the hotel we fulfilled an earlier promise to Vivian to take her swimming at the hotel pool.  She had periodically inquired throughout the day as to when we would be returning to the hotel for a swim.  There was pretty much no chance of getting out of that one.  (We recently did a little stay-cation of sorts at a hotel in North Salt Lake and the zoo the next morning.  We promised swimming, and then it turned out to be the most disgusting pool I've ever entered.  However, Vivian loved it and now has learned that there are usually pools at hotels.)  After our evening swim and dinner we found ourselves climbing into bed at a much later hour than we had hoped.  We had discussed getting up at 4am the next morning, but by the end of the day I was exhausted, my children were exhausted and uncooperative, and it felt overly ambitious.  Justin agreed to let that go, and we decided that we would set a later alarm and just play it by ear. 

Ivan woke me up at 4:30, which he never really does and so at 4:45 I dragged myself out and Justin was eager to bounce out of bed with me and start rushing us out the door.  Vivian did anything but bounce out of bed.  At 5am she was laying on the hotel room floor ready to go, but crying that she was tired and wanted to lay back down in her bed.  We almost called it, but in a moment of desperation I promised her that if she would come sleep in the car that we would come back for a real nap and swim again too.  It worked.  Justin told me that I should have just promised ice cream.  Too late.

Our first stop that morning was a lookout where Justin snapped a few shots of the sunrise.
Definitely worth the stop
Then we continued on to Lamar Valley.  It took us a few miles before we found the wolf watchers.  We've discovered that they're always together because they carry radios.  As soon as one of them spots something interesting they radio the others so they can all rush over and take a look.  One of them was an older woman who offered us a peak into her scope at both a wolf they were watching (and knew by name), and a grizzly bear strolling about not doing anything particularly interesting.  She told us that there had been other bear sightings further down the road that morning, so we continued on our way.  We drove to the edge of the valley and saw nothing.  We turned back around and drove clear to the other side.  Still nothing.  Although I did notice the wolf watchers from earlier in the morning dispersing.  Justin was ready for breakfast, but on a whim I decided to take one more drive back through the valley.  We only drove a couple of miles before we found the wolf watchers, and at least a dozen or so other people there on the side of the road watching the grizzly bear from the day before.  He had returned to the elk carcass for another meal.  

It was really spectacular, and in my opinion a bit unnerving.  I'm terrified of bears, and I think if we had been the only ones there I would have been very wary of exiting the car for pictures.  Okay, I still kind of was a little bit.  The gathering crowd does offer a false sense of security to some degree.  The guy next to us perched on top of his car, which seemed smart.  The bear was about 30 yards away down a steep embankment, on the other side of the river, and completely engrossed in his meal, but that still felt very close to me.  I stayed by the car the entire time watching and mentally preparing myself to dart back in if he looked like he might head my way or really even look my way.  Justin on the other hand wandered off quite a ways for a better angle.  I figured someone there probably had bear spray, but either way I'm glad he did.  He managed video and literally over a hundred amazing photos.  I think they're amazing, anyway.

These are just a sampling.  We have a LOT of pictures of this bear.
We left while he was still eating.  Justin seemed kind of disappointed that we weren't there for when he started walking away, but I'm not sorry at all.  It was kind of surreal being there.  I mean there were people there who were clearly a bit more serious about their photography:
Notice the guys over on the far right too.  Venturing into the field.  I would have never done such a thing.  Ever. 
We left Lamar Valley feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, and grateful that we managed the early morning.  We took forever getting out of the valley because we're a little afraid of the buffalo now.  We found one frozen on the road while a pack of coyotes on the other side of the car were howling.  it was all very interesting.  Eventually we made it back and took our very tired daughter to breakfast, where she refused to eat anything, but did manage to drag Ivan's car seat off of the stand onto the floor, with Ivan in it...but hanging halfway out of it by the time he hit the ground.  He was very wide-eyed, but didn't make a peep, unlike the waitress who came darting across the room screaming the Lord's name in vain, which I did not particularly appreciate.  She was so embarrassed by the fact that she was the only one freaking out that she left for a minute.  When she came back she appeared to be a little more composed and issued an apology to us for the overreaction.  

After that we returned to our hotel room to look at our photos and congratulate ourselves on the morning's excitement.  We all took a nap, and then returned to the hotel swimming pool for the promised swim.
She loves her new inflatable giraffe.

This one loves the pool.
We're starting to realize that we're going to have to start planning more stuff like this into our vacations for the kids.  It seems like Vivian is getting big enough that we're going to have to really start making these "family vacations," rather than just the Mom and Dad vacations that we usually take.  

The rest of the day we returned to the park for a brief hike around Mammoth Springs, and another drive through Lamar Valley.  We saw the mother black bear with her two babies again (climbing a tree this time), and a few buffalo.  It all felt very uneventful compared to the morning's little photo shoot.  We returned to the hotel feeling that our trip was a success.  We saw a bald eagle, big horn sheep, black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, marmots, and sandhill cranes.  On the drive home the next day we spotted a moose.  A baby moose would have been even more exciting, but we still call this one a win.  According to all the wildlife photographers and wolf watchers this is the time of the year to visit Yellowstone, and we tend to believe them.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Warm Weather Break

I do enough whining about cold weather that everyone who knows me is painfully aware of how I feel about living in Logan during the winter.  Therefore, spring break is an extremely important vacation opportunity for me, one that has to involve warm weather.  We started planning this trip last fall.  We decided on Indio, California because it's all but a guarantee that the weather will be amazing.  It would also put us in close proximity to Justin's Grandpa, giving him an opportunity to spend time with Vivian and Ivan.  We invited Justin's brother Christopher with his wife Brooke, and their daughter Caroline to join us.  We have been looking forward to this vacation for months.  That's kind of a big deal for us, since most of our vacations aren't planned far enough in advance to be looked forward to for that long.  This one is the exception.  We were counting down the months, weeks and finally days as it got closer.  We had drill the weekend before, and we had the misfortune of leaving from Orem last Sunday night after drill to drive to a hotel in Cedar City.  The weather was terrible.  For miles we crept along I-15 at 35mph while I wondered if we made the right choice leaving that night.  The roads were covered in snow, the wind gusts were (according to warning signs along the freeway) 70+ mph, and the snow was coming down so fast that my visibility was zilch.  The only thing I could see was the tail lights of the semi in front of me that I was following.  Five long hours later we arrived in Cedar City, grateful to be there and not in some snowdrift on the side of the freeway.  The kids slept the whole way there, and were up again at the crack of dawn.  None of that was how I had hoped to start our relaxing spring break.  However, the next day the drive was long, but went much better.  We didn't arrive in Indio until almost 6pm.  Christopher and Brooke had already spent the weekend in California.  But, they were unable to meet us at the timeshare for a few hours because Caroline was being seen at the urgent care for hives from an allergic reaction.  This is a  game that we have also played on vacation, and it's not a very fun game.  Thankfully, she was fine for the rest of the trip.

Our first day in Indio we spent most of the day just relaxing at the timeshare while Grandpa and his wife Linda visited with us.

For some reason she thought it would be a great idea to just hold herself up with the handles, so Justin figured out a way to make sure she could do it without drowning.  It apparently wasn't as much fun as she had envisioned since this position in the tube was abandoned pretty quickly.

Sitting still in the tube isn't really her idea of a good time.  It's more fun for her to be climbing all over her dad.
The weather was almost too good to be true.  It was in the high 80's and, the sky was cloudless.  We had lunch outside on the balcony, and while the girls napped we got a chance to sit and visit with Grandpa and Linda.  We took the kids to the playground for a little bit after their nap, and then Grandpa took us all to dinner before we had to say goodbye.  Hopefully it won't be so long before we see them again next time!

We spent the next day at Seaworld.  It took us a while to get there, and at one point I was certain that Justin had taken us there on the longest possible route, but I stand corrected.  We spent the next several hours with Christopher and Brooke, dragging our daughters from one end of the park to the other to take in the sights of a Beluga whale, orcas, dolphins, a pair of walruses (my personal favorite), flocks of penguins, sea lions, seals, sharks, turtles, and fish.
Vivian is fascinated with the turtles, and with this one the sentiment seemed to be mutual.

Checking out the sharks.

Drying their hands after washing up from feeding fish to the sea lions.  There is a video, but it's too big to upload here, so check facebook for that.
After a very full day of exploring the park we all loaded back into our cars and set off for Riverside for dinner with Justin's Aunt Melinda, and her husband Brian, and daughter Loren.  The dinner was great, and it's always nice to see them and get a chance to catch up a little bit.  When we left I think Vivian was asleep before the car even left the parking lot.  We got back to the timeshare, and I was getting the little ones changed and ready for bed, so I was the last one ready.  When I came in the bedroom for family evening prayers I found this:
It was the end of a very long day
So it ended up being just prayers with Justin and I that night.  

We slept with the blinds open while we were there, because it's so nice waking up to sunshine, especially when I live in a place where I have insulating curtains over all our windows.  It also means that we wake up early.
Sunshine isn't an effective alarm clock for everyone.
We still managed to have a slow start to the day, but Christopher and Brooke didn't seem to mind.  We spent another day just at the resort, hanging out at the pool and lazy river.  This isn't our usual vacation style, but we enjoyed the change of pace.

I wish that I had thought to take a picture while Caroline was still in the pool with her dad, but by the time it dawned on me to get out the camera she was with Brooke and I lounging around in the pool chairs. 
This was really Ivan's first time enjoying the outdoors, and he is a fan.
The next morning Christopher and Brooke had to return to Idaho for Christopher's drill weekend, and Justin and I set off for Joshua Tree National Park.  We decided to try and tackle a 3 mile hike to an oasis.  I was a bit concerned about the length since this was the first time that we were having Vivian hiking on her own without the backpack.  My worries were unfounded.  She loved it.  In fact I had to keep asking her not to run on the way there.  As we were nearing the oasis we got passed by a marine (easily identified as such because, although clearly off duty, he still insisted on wearing his tiny green PT shorts) who ran the entire thing up and back, apparently without twisting an ankle.  As he was passing us again on his way out Vivian remarked "well that guy is running Mom..."  I briefly wanted to stick out my foot and trip him just to prove to Vivian that it was a bad idea.
We need to find her a tiny camelback

Finally arriving at the oasis
Although she is a very good little hiker, Vivian's legs are still pretty short, so it took us quite a while to actually get there.  In fact, I'm not sure that we had really thought that part through.  Ivan was probably more relieved than anyone to arrive at the oasis and get a break from the baby carrier.

The oasis itself was not very big, so we didn't spend a ton of time there.  Justin and I are always talking about how some day we want to go to Morocco and take a camel trip out to an oasis in the desert.  This wasn't quite to the same scale as what we have in mind for that  trip, but for now it will have to do.

Justin was brimming over with pride, so he insisted on stopping to take pictures of her hiking back out.

Ivan and I preparing for departure.
On the hike back out there was a rather lengthy, steep incline where Justin had to carry Vivian, but most of the hike she did on her own.  It took us the better part of the day to complete, so next we decided to just move on to an area of the park where we could play around on some rocks.

Justin played with Vivian for a little while, and then came and took a turn with Ivan while I joined Vivian up on the rocks.  This picture makes me think that my days as favorite parent might be numbered with this one too.

As we were leaving we stopped to get a picture with this beautiful sunset.  I love desert sunsets.
Vivian was asleep the minute we got her in the car, and back asleep the second her head hit the pillow back at the resort.  We left early the next morning and decided to detour back through the park.  We stopped to take a few pictures along the way.

The wet weather has the desert flowers all in bloom.
Our traditional sign picture
Unfortunately we missed a key turn on our route back to the freeway, and we wound up driving a much slower route, but the emptiness of the desert is beautiful in it's own way, and we weren't sorry to spend the extra time away from the frantic traffic.  We made it back to Orem late that night, spent the night with my parents, attended church in their ward and arrived back in Logan Sunday evening.  The weather here seems to have taken a turn for the better in our absence.  While I would have liked another week, or two, or three in Indio, this definitely beats the temperatures of the past few months.